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You may have used over-the-counter pills like ibuprofen for pain. Now neuroscientists
have found that some of these common painkillers may be more useful than you
As this ScienCentral News video reports, they could protect against Alzheimerâ€™s
Hope from the Drug Store
An ordinary drug found in your medicine cabinet could actually help lessen
the severity of, and maybe even prevent, Alzheimerâ€™s disease. Scientists
at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have discovered that common
pain-killers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, may actually help dissolve amyloid
plaques, lumps of protein that form lesions in the brains of patients with
What causes Alzheimerâ€™s disease is still unknown. Dr.
Gary Small, Parlow-Solomon Professor of Aging and professor of psychiatry
and biobehavioral sciences at UCLAâ€™s
Neuropsychiatric Institute, describes its devastating effects: “Initially
it affects your memory. Short-term memory goes first. As the disease gradually
progresses, it affects all areas of cognitive function. People have personality
changes. They get depressed, and they get agitated. Eventually they need total
care; they canâ€™t even feed themselves. Itâ€™s devastating to families.
Care-givers themselves get depressed and overwhelmed.”
All patients with Alzheimerâ€™s disease have amyloid plaques in their brains.
The plaques disrupt cell function and actually kill off brain cells, which
leads to the disorientation and progressive memory loss. Dr.
Jorge R. Barrio, professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the
David Geffen School
of Medicine at UCLA, used a chemical marker he developed in his lab called
FDDNP, which works by highlighting the amyloid plaques with a fluorescent
glow. This helps him visually zero-in on the plaques. When both anti-inflammatory
drugs and the chemical marker were added to diseased brain fibers, it was
discovered that the drugs actually bind to the plaques. Further chemical tests
indicate that the drugs may not only help dissolve existing plaques, but also
prevent new ones from forming.
This research could explain why people who have taken these over-the-counter,
non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs over several years (such as patients
with arthritis) seem to have a lower risk of developing Alzheimerâ€™s
disease later in life. It also provides information that will be extremely
useful in the development of new drugs designed to both destroy and prevent
More Research is Needed
But this doesnâ€™t mean you should start taking ibuprofen as a preventative
measure against the disease. More research needs to be done. Scientists must
test their results on living patients, which is what they are going to do
The key to combating a disease like Alzheimerâ€™s, especially in light
of this new research, is catching it early. “I think I would consider
Alzheimerâ€™s like I see cancer or cardiovascular disease,” says
Dr. Barrio. “We all know that if we arrive at the diagnosis of cancer
too late our chances are slim. And I think with Alzheimerâ€™s disease
we are arriving too late to the scene. We believe with the use of these painkillers,
the disease may be slowed down, if the disease is diagnosed early, and the
nerve damage is minimal in the brain.”
Dr. Barrio believes the results of this study, which will be published in the march 31 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, will provide hope to both patients
with Alzheimerâ€™s disease and their families. One in 10 persons over
65 and nearly half of those over 85 have Alzheimerâ€™s disease. The United
States spends at least $100 billion a year on the disease, and neither Medicare
nor most private health insurance covers the long-term care most patients
The UCLA study was supported by grants from the U.S.
Department of Energy.